Alvin Thelen honored by the Michigan Dairy Memorial and Scholarship Foundation for his service to the dairy industry

Alvin J. Thelen was honored in April for his many decades of contributions to the dairy industry through his involvement in developing one of the nation’s first computer systems for recording dairy production records.

July 19, 2017

Alvin J. Thelen
Alvin J. Thelen

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Alvin J. Thelen was posthumously honored in April by the Michigan Dairy Memorial and Scholarship Foundation (MDMSF) at Michigan State University (MSU) for his many decades of contributions to the dairy industry through his involvement in developing one of the nation’s first computer systems for recording dairy production records. The recognition was presented during the annual meeting of the foundation’s Board of Directors at MSU.

Thelen was born on the family homestead south of Fowler, the 10th of 12 children. He and his wife, Marie, raised six children on their 100-acre Clinton County farm south of St. Johns.

Thelen graduated from the Agriculture Shortcourse Program at Michigan State College (MSC) in 1949. Upon graduation, he accepted a job as a Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA) technician in Eaton County. From there, he was drafted by the U.S. Army and served two years as the chaplain’s assistant in Fort Riley, Kansas, during the Korean War. After the war, Thelen took a position with Michigan State’s Dairy Extension Department and was subsequently approached by what was then the MSC Dairy Department to begin developing the first version of today’s DHIA data processing system. Prior to that point, all records were manually calculated in the field by DHIA technicians. Under Thelen’s leadership and direction, computerization of milk recordkeeping systems became a reality. Thelen dedicated nearly 50 years of service to the MSC Dairy Department, eventually known as the MSU Department of Animal Science. He was Michigan DHIA general manager until his retirement in July 1997.

Thelen was recognized by National DHIA, receiving the first ever Martin A. Wilson Memorial Award in 1989 and by the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources as its Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award winner in 2000.

In addition to committing to a lifelong career in the Michigan dairy industry and improving milk production recordkeeping systems, Thelen continued farming and volunteering with multiple organizations, including the MSU Credit Union, 4-H and the MSU President’s Club. He became a member of the Knights of Columbus in 1948, and served in a variety of roles including editor of the Michigan Columbian Newspaper. Thelen also was devoted to the Michigan State Grange, working diligently to expand its positive impact on society. He served on numerous state boards and foundations, including National DHIA, the American Dairy Science Association and the Michigan Association of Farmer Cooperatives. Last, but certainly not least, Thelen was known for his passion for MSU Hockey. As avid fans and supporters, his family held season tickets for a number of years.

Recognizing a dairy industry leader for his or her service and contributions through the MDMSF requires a gift of $1,000 or more to the MDMSF, and an 8-by-10-inch photo of and one-page biography about the honoree. Honorees (or family members when an award is presented posthumously) are personally recognized by the foundation at an industry or MDMSF event. The names of MDMSF honorees are inscribed on a plaque on display in Anthony Hall at MSU, their biographies and photographs are kept in permanent records in the MSU Department of Animal Science, and photographs of honorees are displayed at the MSU Pavilion.

Honoring people through the MDMSF recognizes individuals for their accomplishments in the dairy industry, and invests in and provides support to future dairy industry leaders. As the MDMSF endowment grows, additional scholarships can be awarded to students to help offset the increasing cost of higher education, enabling them to achieve their dreams for the future. More than 190 individuals have been named MDMSF honorees since the foundation’s establishment over 60 years ago.

To learn more about recognizing a dairy industry leader through the MDMSF, contact any MDMSF board member or Miriam Weber Nielsen at 517-432-5443 or msw@msu.edu. For information on supporting student scholarships, contact the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Office of External Relations at 517-355-0284.

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